PARIS — Even ice cream, Italian gelato or Popsicles couldn’t help this time.
Temperature records that had stood for decades or even just days fell minute by minute Thursday afternoon and Europeans and tourists alike threw themselves into fountains, lakes, rivers, or the sea to escape a suffocating heat wave rising up from the Sahara.
It was nearly impossible to keep up with the falling records as temperatures climbed higher and higher under a brutal sun — in Paris, Belgium, London, Germany, the Netherlands — all places where air conditioning is not typically installed in homes, cafes or stores. Even office air-conditioning systems strained under the hot, dry weather that was trapped between two stormy weather systems.
Electric fans sold out across Paris — and traditional folding fans made a comeback on the city’s stuffy Metro. Still, the atmosphere was buoyant, as people sought to stay cool yet embrace the heat blast from the south.
Katy James, visiting Paris from Chicago, was one of the lucky ones to have a room with air conditioning but she was still out in the streets, enjoying the atmosphere.
“We’ve had such a good time. The Parisians have been so accommodating. We’ve been getting water where ever we go. We got to play in the fountain. This was amazing,” James said.
As emissions continue to warm the planet, scientists say there will be more and hotter heat waves, although it’s too early to know whether this hot spell is linked to man-made climate change.
This Could Become the New Normal
“There is likely the DNA of climate change in the record-breaking heat that Europe and other parts of the world are experiencing. And it is unfortunately going to continue to worsen,” said Marshall Shepherd, professor of meteorology at University of Georgia.
Climate scientists warn this could become the new normal in many parts of the world but it looms as a giant challenge for temperate Europe.
French authorities have been particularly wary, since a 2003 heat wave killed nearly 15,000 people, many of them elderly people alone in stiflingly hot apartments. So as tourists frolicked in fountains, authorities, and volunteers in both Paris and London fanned out to help the elderly, sick and homeless, opening centers for them to rest, cool down and shower.
“They are in the street all day, under the sun. No air conditioning, no way to protect oneself from the heat,” said Ruggero Gatti, an IT worker joining other Red Cross volunteers handing out water bottles, soup and yogurt to the homeless in the Paris suburb of Boulogne
France’s heat alert system went to its maximum level of red for the first time during last month’s heat wave , when France saw its highest-ever recorded temperature of 46 degrees. On Thursday, about one-fifth of French territory was under a red alert, stretching from the English Channel through the Paris region and down to Burgundy and affecting at least 20 million people.
French Health Minister Agnez Buzyn said temperatures on Thursday were expected to be 2 degrees higher than in the deadly 2003 heat wave.
Trains were canceled in Britain and France, and French authorities urged travelers to stay home. Messages to “Hydrate yourselves!” blared from the radio, TV and public message boards.
Across the Channel, the heat damaged overhead electric wires between London’s St. Pancras station and Luton airport, blocking all train lines. East Midlands Trains posted a message to passengers on Twitter, saying simply “DO NOT TRAVEL.”
Nothing Short of Astonishing
The sheer levels of heat on Thursday afternoon were nothing short of astonishing:
The Heat Was Expected to Be Short
In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, some communities painted vital rail tracks white in hopes the light color would bring down the temperature by a few degrees and the tracks would not get warped by the heat. German railways Deutsche Bahn said passengers who had booked tickets for Thursday or Friday and wanted to delay their trips could do so without charge.
In Austria, a 2-year-old died of dehydration Wednesday in the country’s Styria region after he climbed into an overheated parked car without his family noticing.
Social media had fun with an image that showed that even Queen Elizabeth II, one of the world’s wealthiest women, needed relief from the heat. An image of the monarch meeting new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed what appears to be a Dyson fan, a tower-like design that stood out against the delicate gilt-edged decor at Buckingham Palace.
As intense as it was, the heat was expected to be short, with temperatures forecast to drop Friday and Saturday.